I woke up early this morning, a wedding day buzz through my body. Sliding from bed, I didn’t bother with a shower. I dressed myself quickly into my zoo uniform. Walking out into the kitchen, I reunited with Reuben. He pressed a keep-cup of coffee into my waiting and delighted palms. First things first, we were heading for Wild Sea. Beth was feeding the animals and letting them out for the day. Don’t mention the wedding, don’t mention the wedding.
“Hello, Beth, good morning, are you coming to the wedding today?” Reuben asked.
I tried to keep my expression even.
“If I can,” Beth answered. “Somebody has to stay and keep the zoo running while you’re all partying.”
While she said it in jest, I did sense a hint of spite behind her words, exactly what I’d been trying to avoid. The siamangs called across the zoo. It was more of a screech than an elegant melody this morning; they must have had some sort of squabble amongst them. Reuben nodded his head, then we parted from Beth, in pursuit of the penguins. We’re offering extra enrichment, because some of the new chicks have been swimming into the glass window. I waited until Beth would have been out of earshot. While she’s no delicate flower, I felt a certain level of responsibility towards her.
“Why did you mention the wedding?”
“Because it’s small talk. It’s something which is happening today. Why would I not mention the wedding?”
“Because, you know.” I gestured meaninglessly. “It wouldn’t kill you to be sensitive.”
I sighed heavily. The zoo must have opened, as families strode in on a sunny Saturday.
“Listen, maybe it would be better if I didn’t go.”
“No, you don’t have to do that.”
“Well, you’re my wedding date.” I shot Reuben a look. “Besides, that’s not the catch-all solution you think it is.”
“Yeah, I know,” I conceded, as I came back to reality. “It’s not like I can run the zoo on my own.”
“You can’t run this zoo on your own.”
A smile crept onto Reuben’s lips.
“But that doesn’t mean you won’t be more than capable in Tasmania.”
“Thank you for saying that.”
Reuben nodded his head, then checked his watch.
“Let’s head back now.”
We departed Wild Sea, returning to the Main Drive. I noticed some new plants near the entrance to the African rainforest, flowering for spring. Ella emerged from the path near the otters. I waved to greet her, Reuben leaving for the cottage while the two of us stopped to have a quick chat with each other.
“I didn’t realise that you’d be here today,” I mentioned to her.
“I’m just working for the morning. Then, I’ll be going to the wedding and coming back here to dance the night away.”
“I’ll see you at the wedding.”
“Yeah, see you then.”
Ella headed off to go home, while I returned to Reuben’s cottage to change for the wedding. After putting my dress and shoes on, I strolled out to the loungeroom. Reuben fastened cufflinks at his wrists.
“You don’t scrub up too badly,” I quipped.
“Speak for yourself.”
I grinned, with a bit of a laugh.
“Let’s get into the car, let’s go. I’ve got the address for the church, I can direct you the way.”
Reuben nodded his head. We left the cottage, locking the front door behind us and slipping into the car.
“Do you know where you’re going?”
“Yes, I’ve been there before,” Reuben assured, “but it might be helpful if you get it up on your phone.”
I nodded my head, smiling, and plugged in St Patrick’s Catholic Church to Google Maps. Thankfully, we arrived without needing to check the directions and found a parking spot near the church. As Reuben and I got out of the car, his phone rang. I waited patiently while he spoke. In the meantime, until the end of the call, I tried to distract myself, with thoughts of animals.
“That was Meredith,” Reuben told me. “She’s at the zoo still. Willow’s hormone levels have dropped to baseline levels. She’s in labour now.”
“Right,” I responded, then smiled nervously. “Well, I can stay here, if you want.”
Reuben shook his head.
“I’ll just check in. I’m not going to miss the ceremony.”
Famous last words, I feared. Reuben kissed me on the cheek, then left.
“I’ll see you soon.”
I swung around. The keepers of Melbourne Zoo were beginning to turn up, having exchanged their Zoos Victoria uniforms for their finest gear. Over in the distance, on her own though, I noticed Ella, phone in hand, wearing a gorgeous hot pink, tea-length dress, with a sweetheart necklace and lace over her decolletage.
“Ella!” I tottered over to her. “Nice to see you – again.”
“Yeah, same to you,” Ella responded. “It’s going to be a good day today.”
She kept glancing away from me, though. I sensed that her mind might have been on other matters, and eventually worked up the courage to ask.
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah.” Ella sounded unconvinced. “I’m pretty sure that Alex is coming.”
“Ah, right,” I replied.
We started making our way towards the church building.
“Ella,” I whispered, “you’re wearing your ring.”
She instinctively covered her left hand with her right. Before Ella could remove her ring, Alex scurried up from behind her. He slung one arm loosely around her shoulders. Ella smiled and dropped her hands.
“It’s good to have you here,” she told him. “I’m glad to have you with me.”
We entered the church. Violet, as an usher, showed us the QR code to scan for the program.
“How very high-tech,” Ella remarked.
“It’s to save paper.”
We brought up the programs on our phones, then found seats to wait before the ceremony could begin. I scrolled through, identifying four bridesmaids and four groomsmen. The organist played, and we rose to our feet. Ara was the first bridesmaid to enter, followed by another of Emmie’s friends, then her cousin, then her sister, as Maid of Honour. They all wore beautiful green dresses. Then, finally, the woman we were waiting for – the bride. Emmie’s father walked her down the aisle, wearing a gorgeous wedding gown, light through the stained-glass windows causing the sparkles to shine. They reached Vel at the front of the church, beaming. Emmie and her father kissed each other on the cheek. He took up his position next to her mother, while the blushing bride linked hands with her groom.
“Please be seated.”
We resumed our pews.
“Beloved ones, we are gathered here today, in the presence of God, for the wedding of Emerson and Velushomaz, Emmie and Vel, two bodies, two souls who today before us become one flesh, one family.”
Ara smoothed down the tulle of the veil.
“Marriage represents the holy mystery of God’s love. We see committed love blessed within scripture, between Jacob and Rachel, the husband who worked for seven years in order to win the hand of his beloved woman in marriage.”
The priest cleared his throat.
“Marriage is a relationship of continual growth, of friendship, of companionship, of love as strong as death. This is the solemn now which Emmie and Vel will make to each other today. Marriage reminds us of love, and that we are all intensely beloved by God.”
I noticed Emmie and Vel’s families, in the front rows on either side.
“If anyone has reason to believe these two people may not be joined in marriage, please speak now.”
Thankfully, the church remained silent.
“The reading will be given by Isaac Rutherford.”
Isaac walked up to the lectern at the front of the church, wearing a green suit jacket and no tie.
“Maybe love is like rain,” he read. “Sometimes gentle, sometimes torrential, eroding, steady, joyful, filling the earth, collecting in underground springs. When it rains, when we love, life grows.”
Isaac returned to the pews and sat back down. Emmie, the most beautiful bride, took a breath.
“I have found the one whom my soul loves. Vel, you are my companion. Truly, I cherish you.”
I dabbed a tear away from the corner of my eye. I’d not anticipated getting overemotional. Noticing, Reuben nudged me.
“Emmie, I feel so lucky to be able to love you for the rest of our lives. I promise to cherish you, to care for you, to support you in your work as you support me in mine.”
“I love you,” the bride whispered to her groom, then turned to her Maid of Honour, who reached into the ribbon around her bouquet.
Emmie accepted a thin gold band, which she slid onto Vel’s finger.
“Vel, I give you this ring as a token of our marriage. With all that I am and all that I have, I honour you.”
“Emmie, I receive this ring as a token of our marriage.”
Vel sniffled, then laughed.
“May we grow in love together.”
He fetched Emmie’s wedding ring, then placed it on her finger.
“Emmie, I give you this ring as a token of our marriage. With all that I am and all that I have, I honour you.”
“Vel, I receive this ring, as a token of our marriage.”
I gathered around the church, at the others sitting in the pews. We had come together; we had witnessed the union. Three months ago, most of these people would have been complete strangers to me.
“These people have made a covenant before God, in his presence, and in the presence of you all as witnesses to this sacred union. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, I declare them to be husband and wife.”
The priest looked between Emmie and Vel.
“You may now kiss each other.”
We rose to our feet, cheering, as Emmie cupped Vel’s cheeks in her hands. They kissed, then when they parted for air, rushed down the aisle. We departed the church in their wake. Out in the fresh air, I felt the sunlight against my face.
“Well, now it’s time to return to the animals.” We slipped into our cars, Reuben farewelling his charges with a wave. “See you at the wedding reception.”
He drove, while I looked out the window at the beautiful day. Thankfully, Emmie and Vel had been afforded gorgeous weather for their wedding. Reuben and I arrived back at Melbourne Zoo, around the time my phone rang.
“Oh, it’s Isobel,” I mentioned. “I can text her and say that I can’t talk right now, she’d understand.”
“No, it’s fine,” Reuben assured. “There might not be that much for us to do right now anyway.”
Therefore, I nodded my head and answered the FaceTime call.
I found a nice place to sit on the lawn in the shade, so that I could hear what she had to say. Isobel pushed her hair behind her ear. I noticed a sparkle which caught the light, radiating from her finger.
“Isobel, is that, are you?” She blushed. “I’m so sorry, did Joel propose?”
“Well, yes, it was a beautiful surprise.”
Isobel held her ring closer to the camera for a better view.
“We’re getting married.”
“Oh, that’s so fantastic,” I gushed. “I’m really happy for the both of you.”
“Thank you, thank you. We don’t really know what the future holds, but we’re in this together.”
“What are you up to you?”
“I’m at the zoo, but for a wedding, actually, two of the keepers.”
“Oh, is that Emmie Quinn and Velushomaz?”
“Yeah,” I confirmed. “We’ve just come back from the church, for the reception.”
“I suppose that love is in the air.”
Isobel seemed to be floating, a beautiful surprise at the end of this long and taxing week. We ended our call. I felt like I was floating on air, but I needed to go to the elephant barn. What would await me there remained unclear, and I felt anxious again. I hadn’t heard news of a birth. On my way to the elephant barn, I passed Emmie and Vel with their bridal party. The photographer was snapping away, at the entrance to the butterfly house. In between shots, Emmie waved. I returned the gesture, trying to be as calm as possible as I continued on to the elephant barn, where Willow moved around gingerly.
“We can’t do a C-section, not after--.”
The rest of that sentence remained unspoken. My mind returned to Joel, and his visits to Melbourne. I clasped my hands in silent prayer, that this would have a better outcome than the fate of Permai. Willow moved her feet up onto the lowest rung of the barrier between the stalls. She arched her back and trumpeted loudly in pain, the sound bouncing against the walls. Willow birthed her baby onto the floor of the barn. I nibbled on my bottom lip, while I waited for the calf to move. Once the little elephant finally raised her head slightly, a truncated breath went around those gathered in the elephant barn. Next thing she’d need to be able to stand, but at least she’d been born alive.
“I think I’d like to take a look at the baby,” Meredith decided.
Reuben tried to move Willow away. She wouldn’t leave her child’s side. Willow continued to nudge the calf with her trunk, hauling her to her feet.
“Good mum, good mum,” Reuben praised, rubbing circles onto her rump and beaming.
Meredith was able to get close enough to take a look.
“She’s a girl, first things first,” she mentioned, even though we’d mostly noticed. “She seems to have a functional suckling reflex.”
From outside the barn, I could hear shrieking noises.
“Can you go and see whatever that noise is, please?”
I nodded my head and scampered out of the barn. In the Asian rainforest, I listened to the chatter of late afternoon birdsong. Rather than a raucous animal, I happened upon the bridal party, with the backdrop of the lake near the orangutans.
“Oh, hello,” I greeted them. “You look absolutely beautiful.”
“Hey, Jumilah,” Emmie replied. “We’ve just been having our photos. Are you alright?”
She glanced down at my feet.
“Willow’s in labour, isn’t she?”
My lack of poker face must have given it away. Emmie scooped her wedding dress up, then rushed towards the barn. Even for a carnies keeper, she needed to know exactly what was happening.
“Actually, she’s given birth already,” I called out after the bride.
“Is she suckling?”
“Yeah,” I confirmed.
Emmie and Vel paused once they entered the barn, not minding about getting amniotic fluid on her wedding shoes. Sure enough, the baby elephant had her trunk raised, so that she could drink from Willow’s underside.
“And she is actually a she.”
One of the groomsmen, Emmie’s younger brother, glanced towards his watch.
“This is pretty cool, but there is a magnificent party to get to.”
“Just give us a little bit longer, please,” Vel requested.
All seemed captivated by this big, little baby. After about five minutes or so, Emmie and Vel decided to get on their way.
“I’ll stay,” Bob offered, which really didn’t surprise me.
“Thanks, mate,” Reuben told him, gently patting him on the shoulder as we departed the barn.
On the way back for the wedding reception, I could feel my phone vibrating within my pocket. I kept going until I was covered by the light of the function venue, then answered the call. The others continued on inside, into the old elephant house.
“Hey, Jumilah,” Joel responded.
His voice sounded joyous, like Isobel’s.
“I hear that congratulations are in order.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “I could say the same to you.”
It took a moment before Joel said anything.
I was alone, not that Joel would have known.
“Earlier today I was speaking to Isobel.”
I took a quick break.
“Look, she didn’t say anything, she just had her ring on,” I mentioned. “You did good there, sunshine.”
“Oh, thank you.”
“I’ve probably got to go soon, I’m sorry.”
We bid our farewells and ended the call, allowing me to put my phone away. When I finally entered, the entrees had been served. I made sure that I had something to drink.
“Don’t get smashed. You’ve got church in the morning.”
“I do,” I confirmed to Reuben, “and I’m an adult who can take care of myself.”
I took a sip of wine.
“You know, Sam reckons that his fishing cat might be pregnant,” one of the carnivore keepers said.
“We’re not talking about felids at the wedding.”
“Oh, I would love to talk about felids at the wedding,” Emmie chimed in, as she walked up behind us. “Thank you for coming.”
Soon, she needed to move off to the next group of guests. At our table, Reuben and I were seated alongside a number of Emmie’s cousins.
“Bride or groom?” one of them asked me, in her thick and charming Irish accent.
“I met Emmie and Vel through my work experience,” I explained.
“Was your work experience here at Melbourne Zoo?”
“Yes, just earlier this year.”
“That’s totally awesome.”
Emmie’s cousin started tucking into the white wine, while I made sure to pace myself. I ate my entrée, alternating between tomatoes and mushrooms, stuffed with quinoa and feta. Ara, Beth and Isaac were scattered across the room, each at different tables. That didn’t seem to be a pointed move, considering that Ara is a bridesmaid at the head table, and Isaac was serving as the MC for the evening. He approached the microphone to inform us of the outline of the evening, while Emmie and Vel watched on, hand in hand atop the bridal table. We could have been anywhere, really, save for the décor, Indian impressionism from another era. Soft lighting gave a romantic feel, while the main course was served. My phone within my bag vibrated against my foot, while I tucked into delicious Filipino fare. I fetched it while finishing my mouthful. Meredith’s wish would be my command, specifically for some dinner for her and Bob. As I got up and walked across, I noticed the ornate tilework underfoot, which I presumed had been added to the building later. Elephants would have worn that down with their heavy feet, I gathered, although I didn’t really know for sure. I arrived at the doorway, feeling the cold of the outside world against my cheeks.
Meredith glanced past me into the wedding reception, for a glimpse of Emmie and Vel. I handed over the plates of food which she’d requested.
“How is everything going?” I wanted to know.
“The calf’s suckling, she’s doing really well,” Meredith reported with a tired grin. “Thank you for this dinner.”
“That’s alright, there’s main course and entrée there.”
“Fantastic, I’d better be off.”
We waved each other farewell, then Meredith walked off through the dark. I slipped back into the wedding reception.
“Hello, Jumilah,” Reuben greeted me, as I returned to my seat. “I’ve just been speaking with Seamus here about our plans for black and white colobus.”
“How many females do they have in Canberra?”
“Two,” Reuben answered, “although the oldest, Anika, would be post-reproductive by now.”
“So, they just have the one viable breeding female?”
I glanced over to Ella and Alex. They seemed to be caught up in conversation, so I didn’t think it would have been right to go and interrupt them. Thankfully, it soon became time to cut the wedding cake. Emmie and Vel plunged a knife into the bottom tier. They fed one another cake, laughing with glee, before the whole thing was whisked away. It wouldn’t be too long until there would be another gathering of this nature, for Isobel and Joel.
“Now, we’re calling all the single ladies.”
Reuben flicked me a look. I glared back, but still I got up to join the others. Ara and Beth were standing side by side, both smiling politely.
“Are you ready?”
Emmie giggled, then chucked the bouquet over her shoulder. I made sure to keep my arms by my side. This was just all part of the fun, the last thing I wanted to be construed as was desperate. One of Emmie’s friends caught the bouquet, then snapped a selfie with the bride. Really, today has been a fairytale. Willow’s calf was born healthy. Emmie and Vel have been joined in wedding bliss. We formed a tunnel with our arms raised, so that the bride and groom could run through on their way to their honeymoon.
“Thank you, thank you.”
“Sorry, sir, you can’t come this way.”
“Um, I live here.”
“Sir, have you been drinking?”
“Yes, I’ve had a little, but--.”
“Where do you live? I’ll call you a cab.”
I slapped my hand onto Reuben’s shoulder, to save the day.
“I’m sorry, but he does actually live here. His name is Reuben Hendricks and he’s the director of Melbourne Zoo.”
I smiled, to prove that I was trustworthy.
“Man lives and breathes the job so much that he’s actually converted one of the old office blocks into a little cottage here.”
“That’s alright, I believe you.”
The security guard finally let us through. After traipsing through the darkened zoo, Reuben and I returned to his cottage. We stumbled back in the front door. Bidding each other goodnight, we went to bed. I’m not sure about Reuben, but I was pretty quickly off to sleep, dreaming sweetly about weddings and baby elephants.
Jumilah Fioray is a recent high school graduate from lutruwita, Tasmania. Her parents, Catherine and Adriano Fioray, met at the University of Melbourne in the 1990s and returned to Hobart after finishing their degrees, where they raised their daughter and worked in agriculture. Jumilah's passion for conservation reflects her grandparents' work running a sanctuary in Sumatra.
Abbey Sim is the founder of Huldah Media. She is a creative writing, law and theology student who lives on the lands of the Dharug people in Sydney, Australia. Abbey has long had a passion for the weird and the wonderful of stories, sport and zoo animals. 'From the Wild' is her first anthology.